Monday, May 27, 2013

The Highest Calling

It's Memorial Day, but I never got around to finishing writing the things I wanted to write about Mother's Day. If I were a cool blogger I would have announced a series and published them on a schedule and invited other people to weigh in, but I am not a cool blogger.

One of those floating phrases that tends to draw fire when it passes is that motherhood is "the highest calling of a Christian woman" or something like that. And then comes the shots--What about those who can't have children? What about those whose children have (it happens) grown up? Why isn't fatherhood so important?

Those are all good questions, but they don't get down to the heart of the matter, which the "highest calling" people have expressed so poorly as to obscure it entirely. The highest calling of anyone, of everyone, is to love God and love people. Mostly to love God BY loving people.

So if you have small children depending on you, then yes, your highest calling is to love and care for them (ahead of others simply because of their dependence). But even if you don't, or never will, somewhere, somehow in your life there are people to show God's love.

Motherhood may be challenging, but caring for the sick and dying is just as challenging, and devoid of cute photo-ops. In many ways it is more profoundly human and divine than raising children. Even animals care for their young, but only humans honor the past.

But whether it's caretaking or missions or generous donations or just working a job that other people need and being nice to the janitor, all of us have the same calling and the same opportunity and the same commandment: Love one another.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Grammar Commando Takes the Stage

When I was a kid, all the cool homeschooled kids did the spelling bee. Some of them even went national. I never did this, despite a significant natural aptitude for spelling. (This is completely a gender-linked trait in my family. None of the male members of the family can spell at all, while all the women are pretty good at it. However, the guys can fix washing machines, and on the whole, my life would probably be better if I could drop the spelling of "pusillanimous," a word I have never used except right now, and replace it with information on how to operate a socket wrench.) When we played Huggermugger, a word game with a heavy spelling component, my siblings would refuse to tell me the word I had to spell correctly: they would just read the definition and then I had to guess what the word was *and* spell it correctly. I thought this unfair, as it was the only game I could win. But I still got it right every time, so I didn't protest too much.

This week, DOB found me the chance to take spelling onto a slightly wider stage, as the local adult literacy group has a spelling bee as an annual fundraiser and his Rotary club was sponsoring a team. It was only a very slightly wider stage, and there were eleven three-person teams on it, on a very hot May night in a community college theater built in the good old Washington tradition of "Air conditioning? Who needs air conditioning?" The ice ran out before the eighth round.

Many of the other teams had themes and costumes and banners and special cheers, like the "Beeutifuls" the "Trio in Bee Sharp," the "Bee Gees" (complete with disco ball) and the "Spellz Angelz." Our team had the uninspiring name of "The Bee-Wheres." However, good spelling and good costuming were apparently not correlated, as in the final round it came down to us and another Rotary club with the slogan "We Bee Ducks" and fuzzy yellow headbands. (I don't get it either. But, they could really spell. In fact, their main speller kept correcting the pronouncer.)

My great triumph of the evening was "parricidal," a word passed on by two previous teams, including the ominous Ducks, because nobody had asked to have it defined. Once I knew it was "pertaining to the killing of a close relative" the spelling was obvious, but everyone else had been thinking of parasites. However, I went down in flames on "ciguatera," a tropical disease caused by fish poison. (The words to hope for at the end are the really long ones with lots of Latin roots. Get an obscure short word from India or Brazil and you're sunk.)

So, we came in second, but it was still a lot of fun, and it even counted as a date night although we spent the whole evening at opposite ends of a crowded room, most of the time unable even to exchange significant glances because the Trio in Bee Sharp and Spellz Angelz were in the front two rows.

And while I'm feeling inspired, let me point out a spelling error that I've been seeing a lot of online lately.

This is satire:

This is a satyr:

See? Not the same thing. Also, it took me awhile to find an image of a satyr suitable for this blog. Those dudes have a reputation to maintain, and they work hard to maintain it. 

DOB was gratified not to be called up as an alternate on the team--his spelling is solid for ordinary purposes but not at the competitive level--but he is volunteering for team theme design next year. His thought is to call them the "Spell Casters" and have everyone dressed as wizards, including one dressed as Gandalf who, whenever another team tries to use their one free pass on a word, stands up and shouts, "You . . . shall . . . not . . . pass!"

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Stress and Motherhood

A survey is showing that three kids is the most stressful number to have, and after that it's easier. Since that is what my mother always told me, I will not complain to much about the lack of meaningful statistics given. She had cause to notice, having spread seven children out over nearly two decades. (I was the magic stress-reducing fourth child, too, so that may be significant.) I also noticed my stress level go down significantly when we went from three to four children, probably because I spent the whole time in between in labor.

This has not been enough to entice me to further exploits--not that an extra child would be so hard, it's the acquisition process I no longer have the stomach for (quite literally). Also, it was enough of a challenge finding a vehicle that would fit four kids and a wheelchair. Upgrading is not really an option.

But, I definitely believe I am less stressed than mothers with three, or two, or maybe even one child. There are so many things that just don't matter once you realize you don't have time or energy for them any more. I saw one mother write about how she found it so freeing to be reassured that "As long as your children are fed, clean, clothed, and loved, you are doing a good job." And I thought: clean? clothed? Why? Fed, yes. You can't get away without feeding them, although here economies of scale come in. Clean and clothed are definitely optional.

Or again, a lovely mother of one little girl posted on Facebook about the challenges of getting stains out of socks. And I thought: stains? socks? What are those?

Also, once you have four you have hit critical mass for playmates--chances are anybody can find somebody to play with at any given time. 

There are stressful things, like looking at the grocery cart and bill and imagining what they will look like with four teenagers. I try not to think about that. It's too noisy around here to think, anyway. I'm getting very good about not thinking about things. Which is, I suspect, the key to a low-stress life. 

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Rethinking Mother's Day

I am painfully conscious of the awkwardness of me writing this post, but, alas, that will not stop me.

It's about Mother's Day.

I have seen churches where it is a kind of competition, with the mothers standing up and prizes handed out to those with the most or the oldest or the youngest. This, understandably, has been criticized as cruel to the bereaved or barren.

Our current church, trying to be more mindful of the variety of human experience, recognizes *all* the women at once. I understand the sentiment, but I don't really see the point. Why call it Mother's Day, then? It's like having all citizens be recognized on Veteran's Day.

But I think both approaches misunderstand the holiday. (For one thing, why is this part of church? Isn't church supposed to be about, well, God? But that's another post.)

No, we're even missing the point of having Mother's Day. Did you know the woman who brought Mother's Day about as a recognized holiday, Anna Jarvis, did not have children? Mother's Day was never about claiming honor as a mother. It was about giving honor to our mothers.

Back in the day, as my grandmother taught me, everybody got a corsage on Mother's Day. Red if your mother was alive. White if she was dead--because loss is also universal. It wasn't about a status some people had achieved and other people hadn't. It was about being grateful for the tremendous gift of existence.

Not everyone gets to be a mother, but everyone had a mother. Someone's body nourished yours before you even knew you existed. Someone risked her life to give you yours, and will always bear the marks of it. Someone (maybe someone else) put food in your mouth when you still didn't know what your hands were, taught you to use food and the toilet. Maybe they did it badly, even cruelly, yet still they gave you the moon and the stars and that is something to be thankful for.

Perhaps if our focus on Mother's Day was outward, on gratitude and not status, we could better share it without slighting anyone.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Bad Parenting Confession

At Easter, the ducklings got bags of candy from the church Easter egg hunt. In a fit of hurried Easter cleaning, I tucked them out of the way up high in their closet, intending to get back to them later. We do not take a Wonka Sr. approach to candy, but we do try to dole it out very slowly and, in the past, under supervision.

Then I sort of forgot about the candy, or at least it sifted down to the very large receptacle in my brain labeled, "Things I Really Ought To Do Something About One of These Days." Until one day I was tidying up their room (let's not go into THAT parenting question) and came across a sizable stash of candy wrappers. Evidently they had not forgotten about them. So then I thought perhaps I really should address it except I wasn't quite sure how. They hadn't eaten all the candy, so evidently they were not consuming it recklessly, I hadn't expressly forbidden the candy, and mostly I just really didn't want to be bothered with it.

I continued taking the blind-eye approach until I saw the boys dashing past me outside with something in their mouths. This raised two red flags in my mind--one being that actively hiding something from parents is a different category from not bothering to mention it, the second being that just possibly they were eating something dangerous from outside (though on reflection, the latter was very unlikely). So I made them tell me what they were eating and assured them that it was fine--eating a piece or two of candy once a day was not going to hurt them, just not to bother me about it.

No such luck. Immediately, and ever since, I have been barraged with questions. Can you get the bags down? My bag is out and everyone else still has some! How many can we eat? Can we eat this kind?

I kind of wish I had just let them keep hiding it.